For Cartophiles – Map Mania at the NLB

I love maps, and I was pleasantly surprised when I made my way up to rehearsals at the Drama Centre Theatre yesterday, because there was this display in the lobby of the National Library (Central) featuring the first topographical map of Singapore.

That is part of an exhibition on maps called “Geo|Graphic: Celebrating Maps and their Stories“. I plan to check it out when we get a break from preparing for the show. It (both the show and the exhibition) promises to be fascinating.

For instance, did you know that Tampines, Toa Payoh and Gelang were named more than a hundred years ago? Or that the terminal building of Kallang Airport still stands?

Bukit Timah 1947
Painstakingly preserved map of Singapore City from 1947 (from National Archives of Singapore)

 

Before We Got Kai Kai & Jia Jia

Stoned Kai Kai & Jia Jia - Haw Par Villa (via Expat Bostonians)
Stoned Kai Kai & Jia Jia – Haw Par Villa (via Expat Bostonians)

With so many new attractions every year, it’s easy to forget we have an awesome theme park in Pasir Panjang that’s been around since the 1950s. I last visited in 1974, and I think it’s got something to do with the theme of the theme park. It’s NSFW. Actually, it’s pretty much NSFAnything.

Here’s what Cory Doctorow saw in 2005 when he was in Singapore. Haw Par Villa was one of two hellish places he visited. The other was Sim Lim Square.

Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?

I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.

This is what I said:

My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.

But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.

My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.

So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.

I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.

My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”

I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.

So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.

So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?

Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.

Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.

Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.

We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?

And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.

There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.

“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”

Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.

I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.

So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.

So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.

We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.

As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:

Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”

The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”

Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”

The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”

Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”

Climate Change Is A Matter Of National Security

Children under shelter

A super cyclone lashes the low lying Padma delta region, wiping out scores of villages and rendering millions of people homeless. The refugees who are able to start streaming onto higher ground, into already clogged and crowded cities like Chittagong and Kolkatta. And since we’re talking about millions of people – it becomes a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

Over here in Singapore, we’re still only just complaining about 2 months without rain, and the haze compelling us to spend the rest of our time indoors. We empathise and send aid in the form of cash, food and clothing. Burma and India start to ask for aid because they can’t cope with the influx of millions. Bangladesh is on its knees as disease begins to take hold of everything that isn’t in the massive exodus.

Then it happens – the tens of thousands of low wage workers from Bangladesh and the Kolkatta region refuse to repatriated after their contracts expire, because they have no homes to return to. The UN bars Singapore from repatriating anyone newly classed as Climate Refugees. And that, is how climate change will become a matter of national security. Read more and start to do something.

Things I Will Cherish Forever #10forkeeps

Update: Giveaway extended to 2 April 2014, 2359hrs

I count myself one of the lucky people in this constantly changing country. I had a mother who was a relentless hoarder of things. She kept everything.

I discovered a tonne of things she kept that I thought she would’ve thrown away. After all, she did throw away my ACSOBA (ACS Old Boys’ Association) rugby jersey that had been retired and given to me when I played a game back in the late 80s. That the school and its Old Boys’ Association retired their jerseys only once every five years did not move her. She had disapproved of my playing rugby, even after I had left school, because rugby boys were a bad bunch.

When she passed away three years ago, my sister went through her belongings and passed me a box of things which turned out to be a treasure trove. In the box was a plastic folder she had neatly kept her own “Leaving School Certificate” from ACS Seremban (Malaya) in 1955, her driving licence from Melbourne, her first pay slip from the same city, and a rejection letter from the PUB in Singapore in 1965 when she applied for a job upon settling in the newly independent republic of our country.

That same year, my mother and father had returned to the newly federated union of Malaysia and Singapore by ship from Melbourne, planning to marry in Malaysia and settle in the city of Singapore to live and work. It seems it wasn’t long after they disembarked at Clifford Pier that that whole episode known as The Separation happened.

She made an amazing effort to keep my stuff too. There are about 10 copies of my birth certificate, my citizenship certificate (I had not been a citizen at birth even though I was born in Singapore – constitutional lawyers would know why), my first IC, passport photos through the years, Army mugshots, old bankbooks, cleared and returned cheques and dozens of other paraphernalia worthy of a museum display.

I am forever grateful that she kept these things in such great condition, given that everything else in our country seems to be getting erased and built over so relentlessly and rapidly. I can hardly remember what Marina Bay looked like when it was a real bay.

Where I lived from birth till I was about 6 is also almost a mere memory. I remember my first address: 412 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 5. Yes, a single digit postcode.

Across the road there used to be a police station (not an NPP), where policemen in their shorts used to be summoned across by my mother to scare the crap out of me when I misbehaved. Behind the police station was the beach, and a jetty where fishing boats docked, unloading their catch to be sold at the fishmonger’s (Ah Heng’s) on the corner of Pasir Panjang and Clementi Roads.

I must be one of the lucky, lucky few who can still find his house of birth after 45 years. The original stones that make up the gate’s pillars are still there in its 70s kitschy glory. I drove past it last year and reminded myself to go and take a picture of the gate. Or maybe chip off a piece for keepsake. After all, the police station is no longer across the road.

From this magical box my mother left with me, there are four items I want to share with you:

From the magical box of belongings
From the magical box of belongings

My First Pink IC
My first Pink IC: This was essentially a piece of pink paper with printed fields and a handwritten signature of a civil servant authorised to issue IC on behalf of the Commissioner of National Registration. We always wondered who this person was. Every one had the same signature, and it always looked like it read “Mdm Sam”. So, Madam Sam, if you’re still around, reveal yourself and let the world know who you are.

OCBC Cheque, 1970:
OCBC Cheque, 1970: In the age of paper, non digitised currency, a cheque would take 3-5 working days to clear. Once cleared, it was returned to the drawer, because it had served it’s purpose as an instruction to the bank to pay the payee whatever amounts of money was written on it. 45 years later, a cheque still takes about 2-3 working days to clear, and it was only this week that interbank electronic transfers were sped up to 1 working day.
Diphteria Vaccination Certificate, 1969:
Diphteria Vaccination Certificate, 1969: I don’t even know what diphtheria is now. But what about that fancy penmanship of the clerk huh?
Army ROD Clearance Form
Army ROD Clearance Form: Does anyone even know what a cyclostyled sheet is or how poor Army clerks used to get ink on their hands making cyclostyle copies of Routine Orders?

And not from the box my mother left me, this is a picture of the gate’s pillars at 412 Pasir Panjang Road:

The gate pillar of my first home

I played within these gates, on the driveway, on my toy cars and bicycles. I hope my son will remember his playgrounds and other places he spends with his Mama and Papa the same way I try to remember mine. It is important to have that sense of belonging and continuity.

I strongly urge everyone to take stock of the things around you, record them and the stories attached to them, for posterity, and for the prosperity of our collective memories.

As part of the Singapore Memory Project’s “10 for Keeps” campaign, a fabulous memory kit worth over $100 will be given away to 2 of you, and it comes complete with an Instax camera, a guide book on how to record your favourite memories, two packs of film and a pamphlet to submit some of the photos to SMP.

Some of your photos may be selected for a Memory Showcase exhibition at the lobby of the National Library Building from 11 Apr – 26 May. Come and check out if yours have been chosen.

Details on the project can be found on www.iremember.sg or on FB at facebook.com/iremembersg

Before you leave this page, leave a comment below to share what items you cherish the most, and the memory that comes with it by 31 March 2014. Best two entries (I choose) will win this Memory Kit.

The fabulous Singapore Memory Kit
The fabulous Singapore Memory Kit

Give Your Loved Ones, Friends Or Colleagues Free Tigerair Flights This Festive Season

Start counting down early with Tigerair as they give away 2014 pairs of air tickets in their Friend Fly Free Contest.

It starts today and all you have to do is nominate your best friend, colleague or family member and tell them why Tigerair should fly him or her to any Tigerair destination for free!

Simply leave a comment on Tigerair’s FB posts between 29 November 2013 – 13 December 2013, tag or mention your friends/colleagues/family member and say:

“I wish <Friend> can fly to <Tigerair destination> for free because <he/she is awesome>.”

If your friend/family/colleague isn’t yet your BFF, they’d definitely be your BFF to infinity and beyond if your nomination won and they get a pair of return tickets!

Quick, think of who you know who deserves a break – like friends who’ve gotten married but haven’t gone on their honeymoon! Or your colleague who’s been so kind as to cover for your slackness! Or your boss, so that you’re in her/his good books.

They could end up lounging in Lombok or diving in the Maldives – just look up Tigerair on Facebook facebook.com/tigerair for where your friends wanna go next year!

There’ll be 134 tickets for each of the next 14 days and another 138 on 13 December 2013.

 

tigerair

*Only one entry per person per day. Only open to nominees who have not travelled with Tigerair in the last 6 months. Vouchers are valid from 5 Jan – 30 Jun 2014, excluding taxes and surcharges. Other terms and conditions apply.  

A Few Perfect Days On Vacation

Nikoi Island gave us a perfect beach holiday a couple of months ago. If you haven’t heard of the place, it’s ok. We’d rather not have so many people know about it.

Its only other presence on social media besides its own website is its TripAdvisor profile and FB page, and it’s really quite difficult to get a booking because there are only a few “rooms” on the this very well thought out resort. We loved it that there was no tv, and the internet was so patchy I had to give up trying to do work or Facebook and simply talk, snorkel, swim, kayak, eat and drink for four days.

Food options are limited, but that isn’t something to worry about. Healthy-ish simple meals are prepared three times a day, and you’re always welcome to ask for seconds. And our friends would attest to us being very likely to protest if there were no air-conditioned rooms, but we were pleasantly surprised that the breeze that blew through our house/room was cool and strong enough for us to need blankets when we slept.

I don’t remember any other vacation where we didn’t have a single complaint to make about service, board or amenities.

 

Private car takes you to private jetty to take the private ferry to the private island
Private car takes you to private jetty to take the private ferry to the private island

 
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Our Monkeys Are Safe, For Now

Driving through to the end of Rifle Range Road, where there’s an ST Kinetics factory, and back out to Dunearn Road was very pleasant, and we’re very thankful for very pretty green pockets like these around the island. We hope it stays that way.

We had been a bit worried that we hadn’t seen our monkey troop around for nearly two months now. And with reports of sanctioned mass culling, we feared the worst for the Rifle Range Road Troop – as our bunch of monkeys are known (thanks Amanda for telling me).

We even missed seeing the Lone Ranger in the troop – the naughty one responsible for many trespassing and food stealing incidents at our condo and nearby terrace houses. So we took a drive this afternoon through Rifle Range Road hoping to look for them.

We’re happy to report that the Rifle Range Road macaques are well, although I don’t think we saw Lone Ranger. I hope he’s just off by himself nearby. To the humans who live around this neck of the woods, please learn to live with these very important primates.

You can start by not leaving your trash/food in plastic bags (because the macaques have been conditioned to look for plastic bags because most of the time, they contain food) in the open. Secure your trash bins with bungee cords, and for goodness’ sakes, do not feed the monkeys. If you don’t follow these guidelines, you’re the ones being the nuisance.

The AVA has sanctioned private contractors who trap these creatures and kill them because of human complaints. The contractors have been reported to be a little too zealous in the culling – 300+ kills out of a total macaque population of 2,000 is excessive.  I blame the humans who complain. Please, just move out and leave us and our monkeys alone.

 

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The Bravery

When I went to uni with this bunch of fellas, we used to dare each other to do really stupid things. Like playing football at night in winter, topless, or diving into the surf at Bondi at night in winter with clothes on – this went on even after we left uni and returned to Singapore.

Once when we were at some expensive bar, we dared each other to do a runner. We all ran, but in wrong directions, and no one stopped us because we were shrieking like girls.

If we had a motto, it would have been the commando-like “Who Dares Wins”, but localised: “Who Scared Who? (Nabeh!)”

A nicer way of putting it would be that we all got along because we liked giving things a shot. My friend Shakir played in a Sydney rugby club with me before even learning the rules, and we both went abseiling precisely because we were scared of heights.

Once a student of aeronautics and a licenced commercial pilot, but who had the worst timing when it came to graduation – in 2002, Muslim trainee pilots held (and still hold) the world record for most number of planes flown into skyscrapers – Shak never once saw work as a pilot.

But always on the lookout for something interesting to do, the dude I’m proud to have been friends with for 18 years is now co-running this new joint in the newly hipster Jalan Besar Stadium neighbourhood, Shak revealed that the name, The Bravery, came about because “if you want to open cafe, must be damn brave man”.

Besides the damn kok etymology, The Bravery’s other noteworthy pedigree is that it is set up by the people who opened The Plain, on Craig Road in Tanjong Pagar. With that comes super coffee (they don’t roast their own beans, but that’s more than made up for by expert baristas who make sure your coffee is never burnt or sour), great sandwiches, and this breakfast item you have to have:

The Brave Bergedil is poached egg on bergedil corned beef hash with avocado and turkey bacon. Apart from the turkey bacon (which tips it over to the halal side of breakfasts), this combo works – I don’t care what this blogger says.

People who work nearby and who are familiar with Chye Seng Huat Hardware and Windowsill Pies (you know who you are, you Mad (Wo)Men) must come here for your coffee and light lunch fixes. And because they’re open all weekend, it’s worth coming out to Match-Fixers’ Central. Apparently it’s packed on weekdays but Sundays see crowds smaller than a regular S-League match.

The Bravery
66 Horne Road
Singapore 209073

What? There’ve Been 10 JB Arts Festivals Already?

Unbeknownst to many, and especially unbeknownst to me, there is a JB Arts Fest, and they’ve had it for ten years.

This is a bit surprising given all the horror stories we read in our papers about JB and crime – where it’s always “Singaporean Shot While Shopping”, or something like that. Although after speaking with several Johoreans, one suspects the context might have been “Singaporean Shot While Shopping Because He Insisted On Pushing A Trolley Full Of Cheap Groceries Through The Single Basket 10 Items Only Checkout Lane”.

Yes, JB-siders dislike us. If you’re still clueless as to why, think about the nasty things you say about foreigners in Singapore. That’s right. We make everything expensive in JB, we’re loud, crass and rude about it and we don’t care if the locals need to move up north to Yong Peng or Machap to be able to afford a house.

Over the weekend, Hossan and I ventured across the Straits to prepare for his performance at the Arts Festival, and we were stumped by the graciousness and hospitality of our hosts. And for the first time in a long time, we witnessed a bunch of people putting together a festival for the love of the arts, and not money – JB doesn’t yet have an Esplanade, or Drama Centre or Victoria Theatre, but the organisers managed to cobble together what was an impressive line up of events, from comedy to classical music to art and literature workshops.

We did one performance at a restaurant called Eight Lido – al fresco, by the Straits, and another one on a gaudy multi-coloured LED lit boat. Both were sold out to audiences who laughed at every joke, and dare we say, even harder than Singaporean audiences did at our recent shows. To be sharing the stage with an extremely talented troupe called M.A.C.C. (Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians, not to be confused with Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) was also a treat. These fellas were frikkin’ funny lah, can?

I am honoured to have been a small part of the JB Arts Fest (writing Hossan’s script), and am very grateful for the fantastic hospitality of the organisers – especially Allan Fernandez, owner of Eight Lido. Thank you for having us over.

The JB Arts Festival 2013 runs till 5 October. Check out their programme booklet.